Vietnam to splash out $15 mln in Mekong Delta drought fight

By An Nam   March 9, 2020 | 12:52 am PT
Vietnam to splash out $15 mln in Mekong Delta drought fight
Two men in the drought-hit Tien Giang Province in the Mekong Delta collect freshwater from a public faucet, February 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Hoang Nam.
About VND350 billion ($15.16 million) would serve to combat drought and salt intrusion in five Mekong Delta provinces, said Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc.

The money, to be derived from multiple sources, would be awarded to Long An, Tien Giang, Ben Tre, Kien Giang and Ca Mau provinces, Phuc said in a Sunday meeting with local authorities.

All five provinces declared emergency drought states last week, with their salinity levels having surpassed the 2016 record.

Around 40,000 hectares in rice paddies have been damaged due to drought or salinity across the five provinces. Water shortages are also rampant, with 95,000 families without freshwater for daily activities, Soc Trang Province being the worst-hit with 24,000 affected families, said Nguyen Hoang Hiep, Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development.

Regional salt intrusion was caused by low water levels in the Mekong River last year. All provinces in the delta, except for Dong Thap, An Giang and Can Tho, are affected by prolonged and severe intrusion, Hiep said.

The intrusion is expected to continue until April, reaching up to 110 km inland for some river branches like Vam Co Dong or Vam Co Tay in Long An, authorities said.

Localities are to source water into fields and channels when salinity levels are still low, drill more wells for freshwater and install public faucets, the agriculture ministry advised.

Water trucks also need to be deployed to around 40,000 families in remote and coastal areas in Kien Giang, Ben Tre, Long An, Ca Mau and Tra Vinh. Freshwater reservoirs and dams to combat salt intrusion also need to be built to reserve freshwater for water stations in Bac Lieu and Tra Vinh.

The Mekong Delta, home to Can Tho City and 12 provinces, has been experiencing especially harsh droughts and salinization, with experts warning salinity levels would exceed the 2016 record this month.

Until March 15, salinity will rise to eventually trump the levels of mid-February and the same period in 2016, authorities said. Salt intrusion will keep escalating before hitting its highest level in the middle of the month before slowly decreasing in April.

2016 witnessed the most serious drought and salinity levels ever in the delta when 600,000 people did not have access to freshwater, up to 160,000 hectares of paddy fields were damaged and farmers lost up to 800,000 tons of rice, suffering losses of VND5.5 trillion ($237 million).

Experts have blamed the El Nino phenomenon and Chinese dams for the severe conditions across Mekong Delta.

Mekong River flows 4,880 km through six countries, 2,130 km in China. Of the 19 hydropower projects it plans along the river, China has completed 11.

Though China said earlier it would release water from its dams to save downstream countries Thailand, Laos, Myanmar, Cambodia, and Vietnam, experts said the amount would never be enough to even reach the Mekong Delta.

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